Harming one to benefit another: The paradox of autonomy and consent in maternity care

Harming one to benefit another: The paradox of autonomy and consent in maternity care
Original Article
Elselijn Kingma
Bioethics, 11 December 2020
Open Access
Abstract
This paper critically analyses ‘the paradox of autonomy and consent in maternity care’. It argues that maternity care has certain features that increase the need for explicit attention to, and respect for, both autonomy and rigorous informed consent processes. And, moreover, that the resulting need is considerably greater than in almost all other areas of medicine. These features are as follows: (1) maternity care involves particularly socially sensitive body parts that are regularly implicated in consent-centred procedures, as well as in unconsented interventions, in ordinary, non-medical life; and (2) much of maternity care (especially intervening in childbirth) is medically unique, in that it harms one patient (the mother) not primarily for the promotion of her own health but for the benefit of another (the baby). The apt comparison, within medicine, is therefore with non therapeutic research and transplantation medicine—both of which have elevated consent requirements characterized by very rigorous consent processes. At the same time—and this delivers the titular paradox—the importance of autonomy and consent in maternity care is at particular risk of being denied or disregarded. Jointly, these considerations make a very strong case for change: attention to and respect for autonomy and consent should be (1) core values; (2) key points of practical attention in the years ahead; and (3) central quality indicators in maternity care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s